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Finally, obviously the easier sites in which to place nuclear power stations is where they are at the moment and, of course, there is a good deal of support among local communities for the continuation of employment. However, if you believe in climate change you also believe in rising sea levels. Nuclear power stations are always built on the coast. When the siting report is looked at, will a great deal of consideration be given to

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how much cost and effort will be needed in constructing sea defences for nuclear power stations? If much effort needs to be expended in constructing sea defences, that will have a major knock-on effect for communities situated near those coastal stations.

2.42 pm

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, I assure both the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that I forgive them for their generous, after-Christmas approach in hoping for a Conservative or Liberal Government. However, in a bout of January meanness, I assure them that that is not on this Government’s agenda.

I especially thank the noble Baroness for the support of the Conservatives for the nuclear programme. She is absolutely right that if this is going to be a question of private sector investment, it has to have the assurance of a very long-term, cohesive approach from both Houses as to the environment in which they can invest. The Government thank her for that.

Noble Lords can be confident that this will be a question of private sector investment and the technological solutions that go with it. Indeed, at the moment, as the noble Baroness was kind enough to say, I go round the world banging a drum. I am proud to be able to bang the drum and sell the environmental technological solutions for so much of climate change. Those are British solutions being sold round the world.

We hope that 2020 will be the maximum date for the commissioning of the first nuclear power station and that in fact that will occur in 2017 or 2018. We are looking at that timescale. I assure the noble Baroness that there will be no subsidy from the taxpayer. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked the valid question whether that included any hidden subsidy. If we work on increasing the price of carbon, that on its own is not a government subsidy but acts to make the nuclear option even more cost-efficient.

The noble Baroness asked me what reduction is expected in nuclear capacity for generation. Currently, it is 10.2 gigawatts of nuclear capacity in this nation. By 2020 that will reduce to 3.6 gigawatts if we do nothing about it. We all want a more efficient European Emissions Trading Scheme. It was a British design and drive and it is being bought into, but at nowhere near enough the correct level. It must be bought into and driven forward even more if this nation is to benefit from it. Incidentally, I say as an aside to the noble Baroness that every time I go to Russia I feel proud about the energy equation as regards this nation. We have some world-class players making a difference there as well.

I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that we will not in any way, shape or form take our eye off the ball of what I call the mix. That is the mix of carbon capture and storage, the mix of offshore wind farm development, the mix of energy conservation and the education of the next generation in that—that must not be forgotten—and the mix of the stimulation of technological solutions to so much of the problem. Nuclear is not on its own the solution to this any more than any of the other methods. As regards the noble Lord’s question on the strategic siting assessment, we

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hope that that will report, after consultation, by April of this year; it is that quick. His points about siting and its implications, especially with regard to sea levels, will be taken into account in that. The analysis of the White Paper, which comprises a separate booklet, will be placed in the Library to assist noble Lords with the relevant figures.

2.45 pm

Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the welcome Statement and draw attention to the interests that I declared in the register. I am very pleased that, before the publication of this White Paper, the difficulties which the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate had with the Treasury were resolved and that a fair number of the new staff will be able to be recruited so that the examination of nuclear reactors will be carried out very rapidly. That is critical to the 2017 target date of which my noble friend spoke. He correctly identified the low emissions from nuclear generation as compared with gas. Could he tell us whether the climate change levy will continue to be imposed on the nuclear industry, given the Government’s now public admission that such a small amount of CO2 comes from the generation of nuclear power, and that this is a burden which the industry should not necessarily have to carry at this time, given the low emissions for which it is responsible?

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, my noble friend raises a very valid point. During my time at the CBI I was intimately involved with the formation of the climate change levy. I do not know whether the nuclear industry will be exempt from the levy for the reasons that he gave. I promise to provide him with a full answer on that as soon as I have found it out.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I welcome the Statement. Does the Minister recall that 28 years ago I announced to the House of Commons a programme of approval of 13 new pressurised water-reactor nuclear power stations, of which only one ever got built, and that was 12 years after my announcement? How will he ensure that the same thing does not happen again and that a slightly better performance occurs? Can he say a little more about what the design that gets the Government’s approval is likely to be, because the key to all this is that it should be a serial system of faster build, with more common systems that are more easily inspected and with safety more guaranteed? What kind of design will the Government choose? Many designs nowadays are very different from the PWRs that I was talking about. How will the Government reach a decision on that, because last time we had a huge battle over which design to go for? We need to know that this time, otherwise nothing will happen.

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that one reason why our proposal will not suffer the same fate as that he mentioned is that this nation cannot afford that. We are at five to midnight in terms of how we renew this country’s generating capacity to keep the light on in every respect, and there is a sense of urgency in every part of our society.

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It will be a totally different situation this time. The noble Baroness was kind enough to say that I have had the privilege of presenting this measure to your Lordships' House, and I shall devote every effort to it that I possibly can.

I should explain that there is a generic design consultation. The process for selecting the reactor design for that will occur in spring this year. It is that quick. At the moment we are looking at four different sorts—one from Canada, one from France and two from America. This is absolutely key to making the whole thing work. Interestingly, yesterday Sizewell B completed approximately 450 days of continuous 24/7 generation. That is world class and that is what we shall try to achieve in the future.

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, will the Minister comment on some issues that might be said to arise from a moral and ethical set of concerns in this area? I recognise that moral and ethical language will deal with matters of balance and risk. The Statement spoke of there being no cap on how much nuclear energy might supply our future energy needs. Do the Government have a working view of the contribution to our future energy supplies that might be supplied by different kinds of provision? Having worked in South Yorkshire, I am very interested in coal. Every interference that one makes in the natural world has losses as well as gains associated with it. Do the Government have a working understanding of how the proportions might work in the future? What is the limit on the nuclear contribution?

Secondly, in terms of the risks, I was little concerned that the Statement said that there is no foreseeable resolution to the geological issue surrounding the management of waste. It sounded as though the Minister was saying, “We think we can contain it until we find a solution”. Perhaps he could give us a little more confidence that the management of the risk surrounding nuclear waste is under better control in Her Majesty's Government’s thinking and practice.

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises a very valid point on justification in the interests of the nation: the ability for us to keep the lights on, to compete in the world and to have the power, mixed with the moral and ethical standards to which the right reverend Prelate rightly refers. In March 2008, we will issue a call for the justification applications; that process meets the requirements of EU regulation that new nuclear processes should demonstrate that their benefits outweigh any other possible social, health and ethical detriment. That is taken very seriously by this Government and will be dealt with accordingly. On geological issues, I would like to reassure the right reverend Prelate that I did not use the words, “I think it will be all right”. I do not deal with uncertainty in that way. The geological disposal situation is the one on which the Government have decided and we are satisfied that that is the right way forward.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, the Minister will not be in the least bit surprised to hear that I warmly support the Statement as an important step towards

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new nuclear build, a much-needed low-carbon based energy source. However—and I have given the Minister's office notice of this question—is he aware that when Sir John Harman, chairman of the Environment Agency, addressed a nuclear audience shortly before Christmas—the Environment Agency is one of the most significant of the Government’s agencies—he rather startled his audience when he made it clear that the EA will not approve any new nuclear build until the Government have given a long-term commitment to the finance for dealing with nuclear waste? The noble Lord will recognise that that goes way beyond the phrase in the Statement about being satisfied that effective arrangements exist? If the Environment Agency has to be taken seriously, as I think it does, is there not a risk that the timetable for new nuclear build and the timetable for achieving the financial commitment for which it is asking are totally inconsistent? When will the White Paper on nuclear waste be produced and will it resolve this apparent inconsistency?

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, not only for that remark but also for the notice that he gave me of that question. I have three points on that. There is no point in having a powerful, well recognised, one-of-the-best-ever environment agencies and not expect it to be the custodian of that which it is appointed to look after. Secondly, I think it shared our view. I do not believe that this is inconsistent at all. Basically, it is saying that having a mechanism for the long-term management of radioactive waste is absolutely essential and that it will not allow the private sector to start building or funding that unless it can prove that it has the cash put aside to deal with the waste disposal issue. As we set out in the White Paper, our policy is that before those development consents for new nuclear power stations are granted, we will need to be satisfied that effective arrangements exist or will exist to manage and to dispose of the waste. I know that the noble Lord shares my view of “Come on, get on with it”. It is so important here. Our full response towards managing radioactive waste safely—consultation—will be produced by the end of this spring. We are not dragging our feet.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, first, will my noble friend summarise the penalties that the country would pay if we were not to proceed with what is suggested? Secondly, will he confirm that the degree of safety, which concerns much of the public, has been considerably enhanced since Chernobyl? Has not the whole situation changed since then? Thirdly, has not the price of the Government’s proposals been grossly exaggerated by some who for political reasons oppose those proposals?

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the observations on whether there has been an exaggeration of the cost in relation to this issue. Those with vested interests in various parts of society who allow their prejudices and philosophical objections to get in the way of the harsh realities and facts of this matter will always be convenient with the truth. My noble friend is absolutely right to say that the type of reactors that will be commissioned, manufactured and installed by the private sector will

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be utterly different from those in place at the time of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. They are much more efficient and safe and much more dependable in providing base load electricity for our children and their children.

On the first point made by my noble friend, I point out that one of the most important parts of all this is that this, the fifth biggest economy on earth, has to go forward in an uncertain world very sure that it can be secure in its energy supply compared with getting energy from countries that are less stable, have different views and make us very vulnerable. We have to ensure that our people can keep the lights on, notwithstanding what other countries do.

Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market: My Lords, I too warmly welcome the Statement. It is long overdue but at last it is here. I declare an indirect interest in that I am chairman of the trustees of the British Energy pension funds. I have a question about offshore wind to which the Minister briefly referred. In a recent speech to a European conference, the Secretary of State was widely reported as indicating a massive increase in the programme for offshore wind—I stress “offshore”, as the Minister did in the Statement. Can he say something about the priority that the Government attach to the programme for offshore wind, which seems to involve a substantial number of wind turbines all around our shores?

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, raises a point that enables me to assure noble Lords that we will support the growth of offshore renewables. We will create additional powers, enabling Ofgem to administer an efficient and effective regulatory regime for offshore electricity transmission to connect large-scale offshore renewable projects to the onshore electricity network. We see that as key and part of the mix. We will not ignore it but we shall stimulate further offshore investment.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I also support what has, at last, been achieved after so many years of uncertainty. The management of nuclear waste is clearly of enormous concern. However, some believe that it has the potential for further energy use well into the future. Perhaps the Minister will say a word about that.

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that the storage going forward will of its own create the opportunities for businesses to invest in technological solutions to what is an essential problem in the whole mix. We do not think that we have a multitude of answers at the moment; we are choosing the geological solution. These are all very long-term issues, and in that long-term timeframe other technological solutions on all aspects will come forward—not just on waste disposal but on what happens immediately after generation. The door is open to ideas and investment in those ideas to find a technological solution.



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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I give the Statement a broad welcome, but wonder whether I can press my noble friend on one point. He said that four different designs were under review. I understand that one of the strengths of the French nuclear industry is that there is a standard design for all French power stations, which results in economies of scale and other improvements in efficiency. Will we settle for one design, or several?

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, the swift answer is that I do not know, but I know that four are being looked at. In talking about the French, it is important that people who oppose this proposal understand that right now this nation is using nuclear-generated power, and will continue to do so, even if we never use nuclear generated electricity for a long time to come. It comes from some 100 miles from London; it is called France—

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I welcome the Statement and in doing so want to question the Minister on a slightly different aspect. The Statement properly mentions energy efficiency in relation to tackling climate change and everything else. The electricity generating industry itself wastes more energy—which it vents to the atmosphere—than it supplies to its customers. What plans do the Government have to deal with that anomaly? I accept that it is difficult to deal with it in relation to existing plant, but when we are considering new generating capacity, this matter should be properly taken into account and dealt with.

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that it will be taken into account and it will be dealt with. The consultations—particularly Dr Tim Stone’s work—will take that into account. I should point out that we have to continue with educating and training people in energy use. That is to be part of the mix. It is interesting to note that building a nuclear power station puts less carbon into the environment than building a wind farm.

Lord Truscott: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that without the Government’s Statement and White Paper, the ageing nuclear power stations that we have in the country today would probably be replaced with gas-fired power stations which would have much higher emissions of CO2? Will he take this opportunity to assure the House that the Government will not be blown off course in their efforts to tackle climate change and secure our energy supplies by any legal challenge by Greenpeace or any other NGO?

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, I can give my noble friend that assurance on both counts—vigorously on the second. On the first, it is important that the leaders of our society make it clear to the country that we have no alternative but to accept a mix and to choose methods that will not put more carbon into the environment as we generate electricity for our children.



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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement and thank my noble friend for making it. I follow up on the important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and ask my noble friend whether he is satisfied that there will not be a lengthy gap in ensuring that there are effective arrangements to dispose of the waste product. That has obviously come up in the consultation, as the Statement makes it clear that it is one of the main points at issue. The point about not having a long gap and being ready to go on planning consents rather than being held up is enormously important. Secondly, can my noble friend give us a timescale on when we can expect Dr Tim Stone to report on the issues he is dealing with?

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, I assure my noble friend that there will be no gap. Many of the private sector companies engaged in this are already working to take it forward immediately. My noble friend is absolutely right that that is a key issue, and we will ensure that there is not a gap. Dr Tim Stone has today been reappointed, as I said in the Statement, and he has been told effectively to get on with it. I do not know when he will report, but I will get back to my noble friend on that.

Lord Woolmer of Leeds: My Lords, do the Government intend the nuclear power industry to be treated in every way the same as renewable energy sources under the non-fossil fuel obligation on our power supply companies?

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, I can certainly give my noble friend that assurance.

Lord Christopher: My Lords, I remind noble Lords of the interest that I have declared in this area. I follow that question on the treatment of the nuclear industry with a question on costs. I have no difficulty with what the White Paper says, but will there be a level playing field? Will the other sources of green energy contribute equally to those areas that are not directly in the costs? For example, I refer to the need for back-up and the infrastructure with wind power.


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